Anya Kamenetz on Her Book The Stolen Year and the Impact of COVID on Children
During our conversation we talked about the trends on decreasing graduation rates, the impact of food scarcity on children and adolescents, and caregiver depression. We also talked about the kinds of resources families need to recover from the pandemic, especially within marginalized communities and more severely impacted populations, and much more.
About Anya Kamenetz
Anya Kamenetz has covered education for many years, including for NPR, where she also co-created the podcast Life Kit:Parenting in partnership with Sesame Workshop.
Kamenetz is the author of several acclaimed nonfiction books: Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006); DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education (Chelsea Green, 2010); The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing, But You Don’t Have To Be (Public Affairs, 2016); and The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life (Public Affairs, 2018). Her latest book is The Stolen Year: How Covid Changed Children’s Lives, And Where We Go Now (Public Affairs, 2022).
Kamenetz was named a 2010 Game Changer in Education by the Huffington Post, received 2009, 2010, and 2015 National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, won an Edward R. Murrow Award for innovation in 2017 along with the rest of the NPR Ed team, and the 2022 AERA Excellence in Media Reporting on Education Research Award. She’s been a New America fellow, a staff writer for Fast Company Magazine and a columnist for the Village Voice. She’s contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine and Slate, and been featured in documentaries shown on PBS, CNN, HBO and Vice. She frequently speaks on topics related to children, learning and technology, to audiences including at Google, Apple, and Sesame, SXSW and TEDx.
Anya Kamenetz grew up in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, in a family of writers and mystics, and graduated from Yale University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- What the long-lasting effects of COVID in children’s lives are according to Anya’s research
- Where we should be focusing our energy — our kids’ learning loss or their mental health and well being
- The trends on decreasing high school graduation rates and how that might play out in the next few years
- Whether or not experts consider the pandemic to be an ACE (adverse childhood experience)
- The impact of food scarcity on children during COVID
- What types of resources families need to recover from the pandemic, especially for marginalized communities
Resources mentioned for the impact of COVID on children
- Anya Kamenetz Talks About Her Book, The Art of Screentime (Tilt Parenting podcast)
This Season’s Sponsor: Fusion Academy
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Debbie Reber 00:00
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Anya Kamenetz 00:23
We heard a lot during the pandemic about the revolving door of kids in acute crisis, going to emergency rooms sometimes in adult emergency rooms and then getting a psychiatric bed and then it’s, there’s a shortage so they’re discharged too soon. And there’s not a lot of in between availability day programs or other things that could support them coming back into the community. So that’s a really terrible problem.
Debbie Reber 00:51
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber. Today I have author and reporter Anya Kamenetz back on the podcast to talk about her new book, The Stolen year: How COVID Changed Children’s Lives and Where We Go Now. The Stolen Year is a powerful look at how the pandemic disrupted children’s lives, their learning mental health, and overall well being. The Stolen Year wasn’t written specifically for parents of differently wired children, but I thought it was really important to explore what the research and data shows the cost of the past two years has been for our most valuable resources, our kids, as well as consider the question, where do we go from here? During our conversation, we talked about the trends on decreasing graduation rates, the impact of food scarcity on children and adolescents and caregiver depression. We also talked about the kinds of resources families need to recover from the pandemic, especially within marginalized communities and more severely impacted populations. And we got into so much more. But before we dive in, here’s a little more about Anya. Anya Kamenetz has covered education for many years, including for NPR, where she also co-created the podcast Life Kit Parenting in partnership with Sesame Workshop. Anya has contributed to the New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine and Slate, and has been featured in documentaries shown on PBS, CNN, HBO and Vice. She’s also the author of several books including Generation Debt, The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing, But You Don’t Have to Be, and the book that we discussed together when Anya first appeared on my show, The Art of Screentime. This is a thought provoking timely conversation, I hope you get a lot out of it. Before I get to that, if you haven’t yet taken my differently wired seven day challenge, I invite you to join nearly 4000 other parents and caregivers and sign up. You’ll get a two minute video from me every day for seven days highlighting one practical, actionable thing you can start doing right away to make a real change in the way you think, feel and act in relation to your child. You also get a mini downloadable workbook to keep track of your progress. And again, it’s totally free to sign up visit tilt parenting.com/sevenday. And I do have one last exciting thing to share. The Tilt Parenting podcast has crossed the 5 million downloads mark. That’s a lot of downloads. And it makes me so excited to know that these conversations are supporting families. They’re helping parents feel seen. They’re sparking conversations, and they’re introducing listeners to new resources. I love hearing from listeners who share that my show keeps them company during their morning commute or while they’re walking the dog or cooking dinner. And I love that this show truly does feel like an ongoing conversation. If you want to help me celebrate this 5 million download milestone I would be grateful if you took a moment to head over to iTunes and give the show a five star rating and leave a review. And of course, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode. You can find tilde parenting on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Amazon or wherever you listen to podcasts. All right. Thanks so much for letting me share this good news. And now here is my conversation with Anya Kamenetz.
Debbie Reber 04:33
Hey, Anya, welcome back to the podcast.
Anya Kamenetz 04:35
Thanks so much for having me back.
Debbie Reber 04:37
We were just talking before I hit record and I went back in my archives to see when we last had our conversation. So I was like I was just last year. We were talking about your book The Art of Screen Time and it was over four years ago. So I don’t really know how that happened. But here we are.
Anya Kamenetz 04:53
It’s been a busy time for a lot of people.
Debbie Reber 04:56
Yes, intense busy time. And in that time you have parented through a pandemic, being on this journey with the rest of us. But you’ve also just come out with a book, which we’re going to talk about today. It’s called the stolen year, how COVID changed children’s lives and where we go. Now, before we get into the book, I actually would love to know, when did you know that you were going to write this book? And what was your purpose in diving into this?
Anya Kamenetz 05:23
Yeah, absolutely. So the pandemic started, obviously, it was really hit the ground running for my team and NPR at the time, as we were covering education, education, all of a sudden, was enormous international story. But I also had to figure out, you know, I had my husband’s working full time, his job pivoted to home, and my kids were three and eight years old. So our neighbor came in and gave us about 20 hours a week of childcare, which was amazing, and made it possible. So I was documenting right away, I was spotting the trends right away. I had, I think, a unique perspective, because of my experiences. I’m from New Orleans, originally, it’s my hometown, and I was there right after Katrina, I was there for a lot of that year back and forth the year after Katrina, as a reporter, so as a as a person there and also returned 10 years later with NBR. And we did a huge project reporting on the aftermath. And, you know, with that storm, obviously, there was the the displacement of people, there was the upheaval and schools closed. So the schools in that city close their doors for a semester, most kids were out of school for a you know, usually for a few weeks, they enrolled elsewhere, eventually they came back, but I knew that it had impacts that had lingered for years. So that’s what I was keeping my eye on. And then, after a few months, it passed. It was my editor, actually, from the Art of Screen Time, who came to me and was like, Look, you’re there, you’re on the frontlines. This is a major, major thing that’s happening, I think that you should be writing a book about it.
Debbie Reber 06:55
I love that you had that lens of having had that experience in New Orleans with Katrina, because you brought that into this. And it kind of helps set up this idea that you said the story of what happened to children during the pandemic isn’t over by a longshot. And so I’d love to know more about what you mean by that and talk about some of what you’re seeing, or what you researched, and found are some of the longer lasting impacts on kids.
Anya Kamenetz 07:21
Yeah. So I mean, you have to start right away by saying that this is such a hugely unequal and divided country. And the impact of the pandemic is also hugely unequal. So there’s a significant chunk of children who are going to be quite resilient, because they have the protective circumstances of, and that’s everything that’s genetics, it’s family, it’s having financial stability, and adult in the home who’s capable of helping them. So there’s a chunk of kids who are going to be fine, there is a chunk of kids, and we’re seeing on average, that children are in a position where they have missed learning that will take them years, it will take them years to resume their previous academic trajectory. So that’s a concern. Some of those kids are in critical periods. So they skipped kindergarten, or they didn’t learn to read in a critical period, you know, by the age of eight, or nine or 10, we’re really concerned about them, because they might need extra extra help to get back on track. It’s not just a matter of time. And then our kids with special needs, they actually regressed. So we see kids that in Developmental Disabilities follow developmental pathways. So kids who don’t have appropriate interventions, when it matters, they can lose ground. And I tell the story in the book of a girl who had severe multiple disabilities, and she progressed from walking to crawling at the age of 10 years old. So it’s a very dramatic example. But then there’s our kids who experienced traumas during the pandemic epidemic, raising the chances of trauma, you know, we have 200,000 children that lost a caregiver, for example.
Debbie Reber 08:55
Yeah, when you talk about it that way, and really is, first of all, just a reminder that there’s such a range of experiences, that was something you talk a lot about in the book, and I think is so important to reinforce, you know, my audience is predominantly parents have neurodivergent kids. So that special needs piece would resonate, but then within that there’s the intersectionality of all different kinds of backgrounds and socio economic status. And whether you’re living in a city and what your family makeup is, and that I found very interesting. This idea of learning loss, that phrase has been something that we’ve been hearing about for a couple years, and there seems to have been a conversation about we shouldn’t be worried about learning loss — we should be focusing on mental health and mental well being. And I’m just wondering if that’s come up for you and conversations that you’ve had that it seems to be an either or, but really, it’s a I would think of both/ and.
Anya Kamenetz 09:49
I think that’s exactly right. And I think some of it has to do with the difference between how we talk to our kids and how we talk about our kids. Every kid just is where they are right exactly. We where they are at this moment, and they’re not, they haven’t lost, they’re not, you know, marked there, we shouldn’t stigmatize them or shame them, it’s not their fault, that they didn’t have the instruction that they needed and deserved. That’s why I called my book THE STOLEN year instead of the last year, because they didn’t want the kids to take that burden of being like, Oh, we missed something. So when we talk about our kids, of course, we care the most about their happiness. But when we talk about our responsibility as adults, and I’m talking about both parents and schools, we need to be very, very concerned about their learning and their well being. And it should never be both. And it should be possible to create schools that are both joyful and rigorous, that hold kids to standards, because part of what kids love about school is the opportunity to be at their edge and to grow and to progress and the pride that they take in doing that. So to take away the standards because of something that they missed that we know that we deprive them from. I don’t think it would be fair.
Debbie Reber 10:56
Yeah. And as you’re talking, I’m remembering that just this morning, I saw education week came out with a special report. I don’t know if you had a chance to see that I have not dived in yet. But it’s about obstacles mounting for students as the pandemic deepens, it’s talking about punching graduation rates, fewer kids are just showing up and completing school. I’m just wondering, like any thoughts that you have around how we might see this play out and trends that you’ve seen?
Anya Kamenetz 11:24
Yeah, I’m glad you brought it back to that, because the biggest impact on the Katrina children was the kids who never came back to school. So these are teenagers, they’re teenagers that drifted off. And B impacts the percentage of children and young to dependent young people in that city 10 years on. So this cascading effect was among the highest in the country, young people that are not in school and not employed. So they’re considered disconnected for opportunity. Youth is another phrase, we have had this historic drop in school enrollment, k 12 school enrollment. And there is a percentage of those kids that are unaccounted for. So the superintendent of Los Angeles Public Schools was recently in the press talking about this, because he said, I’m going to personally take on 30 of our missing kids and try myself personally to connect with him, because I need to understand what’s going on here. They’ve got 1000s of missing students, students who are no longer enrolled in Los Angeles Public Schools, and they don’t know where they’re at. Of those 30, he was able to connect with only 10 of them, which shows the problem. The 10 that he met are teenagers, oftentimes, they’re from immigrant families, they have no functional adult at home, somebody has an addiction, or they’re incarcerated. They are not enrolled in school because they’re working. And in many cases, he found they had younger siblings who are not enrolled in school. I’m really troubled by that, that we would have in a major city in the 21st century in America, young children who had not been enrolled in school, how many are there?
Debbie Reber 12:56
Right, and I want to just set this up for listeners. I want to talk about some of the different findings that you share in the book with regards to school attendance. We’ll talk about mental health and more deeply about special education. But we will also talk about where we’re moving, like, what can we do about this, too. So I mean, this is a pretty heavy conversation. So I just want to say that upfront, I get that. And I think it’s really important work that you’ve done to really look at the data to look at what has really happened, because as you said, we’re gonna see the effects of this for a really long time.
Anya Kamenetz 13:28
I really want to thank you for bringing this to your listeners. And thanks to your listeners for hanging in there. Because this is about parenting. It’s also about all the kids, right? This is about a better country. And it’s about every kid, not just our kids.
Debbie Reber 13:41
Yeah, such a good reminder, I wanted to ask about this idea of traumas or ACEs. So you talk about adverse childhood experiences and the book. And certainly we know that many children experienced traumas from losing family members from going through substantial hardships as a result of the pandemic, across the board. Do you see? Or do experts consider the pandemic itself to be an ace for every child? Or does it really depend on their unique experience through it,
Anya Kamenetz 14:13
I was really reassured to hear from trauma specialists that they didn’t consider the pandemic and Ace all by itself, the way that it might have been, you know, to experience a hurricane or something that displaced you from your family. It’s definitely a difficult experience for everyone. Right. And so that’s fair, and that’s part of our kids stories that they’re going to tell. But the better way of thinking about the pandemic is that it is like the climate crisis, it raises the chances of a particular child going through an ace. So I would relate this to many of the families that I talked to, you know, and similarly to poverty raises your chances of going through an ace, right? Something like an addiction or parents mental health crisis, or sexual abuse can happen to any child at any income level. But the instability is more likely to happen with there’s financial pressures on the household as well. So yeah, so that’s really the way to think about it. There’s more ACES going around during the pandemic, but not that the pandemic was an ace for every child.
Debbie Reber 15:12
Right? That makes sense. And when you’re talking about mental health, too, which again, is something we know that neurodivergent kids have higher rates of mental health challenges, depression, anxiety, in the best of times, and certainly I have heard from my listeners, and in this community, the ways in which our kids are struggling, I’ve seen it, it’s very challenging. And you wrote that I found this a very surprising statistic: in 2019, there were just 8300 Practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists for an estimated 15 million children who could have used their help. That was shocking to me. And that was before the pandemic. And you said experts expect to see the pandemic cast a shadow on mental health across the population for a decade or two to come. Any other insights into the mental health of kids or what you’ve learned that would be insightful for my listeners?
Anya Kamenetz 16:05
Well, I’m struggling to think about a way to pose this in a positive fashion. The pipeline problem is egregious, the lack of mental health providers at all levels, from school counselors to people, you know, acute emergency care physicians and psychiatrists is egregious. And it leads to far too many children getting medication instead of therapy, and other supportive settings that could be very helpful for them. We heard a lot during the pandemic about the revolving door of kids in acute crisis, going to emergency rooms, sometimes in adult emergency rooms, and then getting a psychiatric bed. And then it’s, there’s a shortage, so they’re discharged too soon. And there’s not a lot of in between availability day programs are other things that could support them coming back into the community. So that’s a really terrible problem. I do see some bright spots emerging on the other end of the spectrum, which is thinking about mental health as a public health issue, that it is up to the whole community to support. So there’s a lot that you can do in prevention. When you remove the stigma of mental health of talking about it, when teachers are aware, when parents are aware, they know the questions to ask, they know how to intervene at the right time, that we’re reducing levels of bullying in our classrooms, for example, which is something that can push kids over the edge. So there’s a lot that can be done. And I know that schools are really trying hard, but long term. Yeah, we need more practitioners. And we need more kids getting more support.
Debbie Reber 17:38
Yeah, and I do see that. And I feel like that is one of the ways this generation has been permanently impacted. But perhaps in a positive way, by COVID. It does seem to be kind of a breaking down of stigmas, and not being willing to talk about certain things, or even the I mean, I don’t know any kid who, who doesn’t openly talk about their therapist or the meds that they’re on. It’s just kind of part of their culture now.
Anya Kamenetz 18:05
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s really true. And I think it is good to have a vocabulary about mental health. I mean, if you think about it, I’ll go back to bullying and school violence, because I know that impacted a lot of children in the 1980s and 1990s, we were in a paradigm of behavior and discipline, and children’s aggression towards each other wasn’t always always seen as the school’s problem. And that really hurt a lot of kids, especially in your narrative, and your kids would definitely be in that category. Now, schools are taking that on and saying we have a zero tolerance policy. We are kind and they’re promoting kindness. And so beyond just talking about specific diagnoses, being aware of kids having different needs, and that we need to treat each other well, I think it’s something that has been a really positive change.
Debbie Reber 18:51
Yeah, absolutely. I want to go back and talk about hunger. You mentioned food scarcity before and you have a whole chapter on hunger and the long term impact of food insecurity on kids. So could you talk a little bit more about that, as well as what you found in terms of how many children and adolescents were impacted by that and during COVID.
Anya Kamenetz 19:14
So the school food program is massive, and there are about 30 million children who through free and reduced lunch depend on those meals. And despite heroic efforts when schools shut down those meals, were not getting to students in the same way. And not just food insecurity, but actual hunger among young children spiked to levels that hunger researchers had not seen in the modern era in April and May of 2020. And they remained elevated through the end of the year despite cash assistance that did go out to families. The impact of that, obviously, there’s a physical impact, I mean, children need to be fed on a daily basis. Clearly, there’s also mental health impacts from the anxiety and the children absorbing the parents anxiety. You know, I talked to families who stood in food lines who spent hours in food lines. I talked to a mother who wept as she described, going to her former boss asked me for a burrito. And he turns her away because she asked for three burritos instead of two. So the shame of that, the stigma of that, and the anxiety of it does impact children. We know that there’s specifically for teenagers, it’s been shown mental health impacts, independent of just poverty alone, from food insecurity, because of teenagers taking that on and feeling responsible and feeling like they have to somehow help their families address this. So it’s major, it’s major, and it was somewhat overlooked. I feel like in the thick of things.
Debbie Reber 20:43
Yeah. I mean, there were so many things that were overlooked. Right. I mean, I think that one of the biggest challenges is by the time we kind of realized all the things falling through the cracks. So much damage was already in progress.
Anya Kamenetz 20:57
That’s exactly right. And that is a symptom of what I talked about in the book, which is that America didn’t have the social welfare infrastructure in place to protect our children. Before the pandemic started, there were many countries where they already have an infrastructure for family paid leave, for tax credit, so direct cash support to families. So it was really just a matter of turning the dials and ramping that up in order to protect the children. And for us, we’re really depending on this Jerry built system, where there were all these points of failure. I mean, it’s incredible. I mean, it’s incredible what, for example, food service workers did, they were converted into frontline workers overnight. But it wasn’t enough. And that’s the heartbreaking part.
Debbie Reber 21:41
You also talk about camp and the impact of kids not having that opportunity to go to camp over the summer. And I’m just wondering, what did you find about the effects on kids of not having those experiences?
Anya Kamenetz 21:55
Well, there’s a number of ways to talk about this. I mean, big picture, we know that there was a drop in physical activity among children, children gained weight at high levels, there’s some worrying signs about spiking levels of diabetes. So So overall, the Healthy Living aspects of it is something we should be concerned about, as far as it affects kids health, you know, having the enrichment and the ability to escape your home for some people, you know, be with other caring adults and form those relationships that can be really protected for children, who unfortunately, maybe don’t have the supports at home is huge. And so you know, the loss of sports, recreational activities, enrichment activities, as well as summer camp, it all kind of goes to that.
Debbie Reber 22:36
You talk about George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement as well, which was just such a part of 2020. And the experience for so many youth, you know, getting actively involved, showing up at protests. I’m just wondering what you learned about that summer and what we went through as a country? You know, this is obviously pretty US centric conversation we’re having but what we went through how do you see that impacting young people moving forward?
Anya Kamenetz 23:06
That’s such a great question, Debbie, the Black Lives Matter movement of summer 2020 was a global movement and one of the largest global protest movements that the world has seen and an overwhelmingly peaceful despite some of the, you know, media depictions, and in many places, led by teenagers, there are many, many teenagers that I spoke to who organized their local marches. I think it was incredibly cathartic. I think it was incredibly heartening for the people that were part of it. But I also think that in retrospect, it’s pretty disappointing because we saw that there wasn’t necessarily a lasting impact on race relations in the United States, it certainly didn’t spell an end to extrajudicial killings. It didn’t stop the fact that the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. It didn’t stop the anti Asian hatred and attacks that we’ve seen. So I think it’s a tricky legacy. You know, social change doesn’t happen overnight. And I hope that for the young people and their families who participated in those movements, that they felt that sense of efficacy and that sense of hope, and that it’s not overly undermined by the fact that we haven’t had incredibly large strides in racial equity since then.
Debbie Reber 24:19
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Debbie Reber 25:11
Let’s talk about the caregivers. You talk about a study about caregiver depression, and how that was the most significant predictor of self reported lower quality and parenting. And, again, there’s something we talked a lot about on the podcast. And there we’ve all read the articles about our surge capacity is depleted. And we’re all just struggling. And I actually think so many of us still are, I don’t really feel like we’ve recovered, at least the parents and caregivers that I’m in community with. So could you talk a little bit more about that piece and what you found?
Anya Kamenetz 25:46
Children and their families are interconnected, we’re all part of one system, and the emotional labor that parents and honestly speaking, primarily mothers, so I mean, families have a lot of different configurations and a lot of different distributions of work. But there are many, many reasons why. So often in heterosexual partnerships, and mothers took on the lion’s share of worrying about the pandemic, caring for everyone else, and overseeing other people’s well being. So it’s very real, because there’s vicarious trauma, right? There’s moral injury, feeling like you can’t, you did everything you could, and it still wasn’t enough, your child still suffered, there’s burnout. And the recovery process begins after it’s over, but we never had a clear indicator that it was over. So a lot of us have just been, you know, running on fumes for a really long time. I’ve put in mind that this is kind of a dramatic comparison. But I was, I had the chance to go to Ukraine for NPR in May, covering the war, and primarily it was covering people that were displaced. And so I was in an internally displaced person center, talking to the psychiatrist there. And they said, every day, mothers come and they asked me, How about their children’s well being, and every day I tell them, you have to take care of yourself, because what your child needs is a person who is completely able to function.
Debbie Reber 27:11
Yeah, I mean, I, just earlier today was talking with Deb Dana, who is an expert in polyvagal theory. And we talked about how important it is for parents to really get to know their nervous system so that we can co-regulate our children. So I just really appreciate that reminder, how important it is that we do take care of ourselves. I want to zoom out a little bit and just hear from you. First of all, what are you finding in terms of the kinds of resources that families need to recover? Especially considering as we’ve been talking about this disproportionate impact of the pandemic on marginalized communities, families of color? Can you talk more about what we need to kind of repair and move forward in a way that can really support these families and kids?
Anya Kamenetz 28:00
Yeah, I love that question. Our schools have money to spend, they got $190 billion from the federal government on top of their normal appropriations to try to meet these needs. And they’ve been trying to staff up. They’ve been trying to offer extra learning time. Some parents are not taking advantage of that. And just a really interesting dynamic because the surveys show that many parents also were not that concerned about their kids learning their the they may be concerned about their well being and that they may not want to foist on them, you know, extra learning time tutoring time that that feels punitive, or it feels inappropriate. So, really thinking clearly about what your goals are for your kids and your individual learner and the progress that they’re making is important. Asking what resources are available at the school, if there are more supplemental resources, if there’s more social emotional learning programs, I think a good is a good place to go with it. I know for kids with IEPs, that a lot of them are pushing to reevaluate and to kind of get a more appropriate level of services provided. And that can be a really arduous process.
Debbie Reber 29:05
Have you found that there’s an increase in parents asking for IEPs? Because I can imagine that a lot of parents recognized learning styles that they weren’t aware of before and maybe discovered some neural divergence among their kids that they just didn’t know about before.
Anya Kamenetz 29:21
That’s a really interesting question. I think it could cut both ways, though, because kids are not parents weren’t necessarily seeing their kids in comparison with other kids. And there’s also a lot of behaviors or difficulties that you might just put down to the pandemic itself. I talked to a kindergarten teacher about this. She didn’t get her kids back in the classroom until April of 2021. And this is in San Francisco. And she was like, you know, I’m sitting here looking at a child, a kindergartener who can’t sit still. If it was September, I feel like I could work with them and I would know where they were at if it’s May. I don’t know I don’t know if they need a referral or not because they just missed all that time. And so they may mask some diagnoses, they may delay some diagnoses because parents don’t know, really? And maybe the teachers don’t know either.
Debbie Reber 30:09
Yeah, that makes sense. I was speaking with someone who was an eighth grade teacher. And I was asking her, Oh, gosh, how’s that going this year, because you know, eighth grade can be pretty intense here, socially, middle schools can be rough. And she said, You know what, it’s actually great, because my kids are essentially like, fifth or sixth graders. Wow. Yeah. And I thought that was fascinating insight, and, but also makes me wonder, how does that play out? Like, what does that look like? When it comes to launching, you know, what this looks like for young adults? Do you have thoughts about that?
Anya Kamenetz 30:43
I’ve been hearing this exact same thing. And it’s been put out for kids at all ages. So I think it’s a giant social experiment. And it’s hard to know how it’s gonna play out. We haven’t seen this exact thing happening before, I guess the best case scenario with a lot of thoughtfulness and I thought about this in terms of neurodivergent kids, because I know, I know people who work with those kids, who are, you’re so they’re so thoughtful and intentional about helping them scaffold their social development, right, in a way that we don’t often think about for typical kids, making them social stories and putting them in different environments where they can, you know, be at their edge, but it’d be feel comfortable at the same time talking to, you know, the friend’s parents and talking about what’s expected and having, you know, the same strategies for behavior, both home and at school. So these are strategies that might be adopted for more typical kids, where simply what you’re trying to do is help them progress socially. Right? And, and maybe it could be good because you think about middle school, my daughter is starting middle school this year. And it’s oftentimes Lord of the Flies, right? We kind of were like, well, they’re old enough to be on their own, that means they don’t really need supervision. And we, you know, don’t really need input from us until, oh, my god, something terrible happened with, you know, texting or whatever. And then we’re kind of trying to swoop in, but can we be thoughtful in helping our kids develop? And can mental health professionals, to the extent they’re available, help us do that? That’s kind of my question.
Debbie Reber 32:11
Yeah, I mean, one of the things that I talk a lot about is this idea that every child is on their own unique developmental timeline, right, that’s a big tenet of total parenting, and just helping parents recognize that their child has their own path, and it’s going to be asynchronous, it’s going to look very different. And so I love what you shared, because I do feel that a lot of strategies that would help differently wired kids can really benefit all children. And maybe this disruption is going to kind of support all children, if schools can kind of get behind it right and not try to just get everybody caught up, but really lean into social emotional learning and lean into doing this work.
Anya Kamenetz 32:52
I think that’s exactly right. And over the summer, my daughter had an opportunity to spend time with a friend of ours who’s autistic. And, you know, his mom was there. And she’s incredibly thoughtful about, you know, helping lubricate things socially for him without being overbearing, and without stigmatizing. And all the kids that were there responded really well to that kind of positive intervention. And, yeah, I think it could be a really good thing.
Debbie Reber 33:18
That’s great. as kind of a last wrapping it up question. Again, I just want to reiterate for listeners, this book is called the stolen year. And it is very thoughtfully and deeply reported, it was very insightful and really painted a rich picture for the impact on all these different areas of the COVID pandemic on our kids, and what was actually happening in other communities that you as a reader may not be aware of. So definitely check out on his book. But I want to know, if we were to zoom out and think about the kind of lessons learned, right? If this is our you always leave a meeting with your next steps. What are the key takeaways that you hope we as listeners who maybe want to be more activist in our lives? Or, you know, how can we kind of move forward with our new learning?
Anya Kamenetz 34:05
Yeah, I love that question. I think and thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate it. I think that this is not just something that can be solved on the family level, or even on the school level, I think a lot of the changes that need to be made are national policy changes that would improve the conditions, the working conditions for caregivers for teachers. We need a child tax credit that reduces child poverty so that there aren’t so many kids coming into school with poverty and the traumas of poverty. It’s a multi system issue, and it’s a political issue. And I think, you know, I would encourage moms, parents who listen to this, to see their struggles in the context of those broader struggles, as much as they can. And as well as you know, maintaining that optimism for your own kids. You know, take the time for yourself and understand that your kids do have an opportunity to come back from this and It will be part of their stories, it will be part of all of our stories. But that doesn’t have to be something that we’re, you know, entirely regretful of. We can say that we got through something really tough, and we did it together.
Debbie Reber 35:12
What a great note to end this on. I need to thank you so much. And now I just have to ask, are you working on a new book? It’s something you can share in it. It’s fine if you aren’t, or you don’t. But I have to ask.
Anya Kamenetz 35:22
Yeah, the thing I’m focusing on right now is the climate crisis. And there’s a lot of common threads. So I’m thinking a lot about sort of generational justice and how we help our kids grow and thrive on this changing planet. So I’m working on an initiative with the Aspen Institute to help get more climate, messaging into kids media, and I’m working on my own kids media projects. And eventually, yes, there’s going to be a book that will hopefully combine some of these into these policy interests and concerns and sort of talk about how we talk about the future with our kids and how we shape the future with our kids.
Debbie Reber 35:58
Well, good luck with that. I really just appreciate the way that you show up and the way that you, you do all the hard work, and then interpret it for us, this really important information in a way that is very accessible, and important that we know about. So thank you so much. Thank you for everything you shared today.
Anya Kamenetz 36:17
Thank you so much. It was great talking with you.
Debbie Reber 36:21
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